The stigma of mental illness among mental health professionals

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By Jennifer Springham, @jlspringham2
Joint Appointment: Lecturer in Mental Health and Practice Development Lead,
My Care Academy. 

I was really inspired reading Mandy Steven’s blog addressing the stigma of mental illness for those working in mental health services. We all have our own narratives and life experiences, and being a mental health professional doesn’t make us exempt from stress and mental ill health. Supporting the well-being of mental health staff is something I feel passionate about. We are all human beings, supporting other people as well as ourselves. Asking for help is not an easy thing to do, and perhaps is even harder for a mental health professional to do.

Like many others, I have struggled with persistent anxiety on the back of stressful life events. I felt ashamed of this, and very often I thought that I wasn’t a good enough be a mental health nurse for feeling the way that I did. Nevertheless, with time, treatment, determination, lifestyle changes, and support from the people that really matter to me, I am able to look back and see how far I have come. Not just in a recovery sense but also in my career. If someone had told me back then that I would be a university lecturer teaching the mental health nurses of the future, I would not have believed them.

Some people who work in mental health have opened up about their experiences of mental illness. Dr. Eleanor Longdon talks about her experience of Psychosis in a very interesting Ted Talk video. Dr. Linda Gask reflects on her lifelong experience with depression and anxiety in this podcast. Honest conversations like these are so important and seek to reduce the stigma of mental illness among professionals.

Mental health at work is high on the agenda, with a growing recognition that people should be supported in the workplace, and that organisations need to have a better understanding of mental health and the impact of illness. It was really encouraging to see that MHFA (Mental Health First Aid) has now reached over 900 employers in the UK.  Healthcare staff will experience shift patterns that disrupt the body, and are working in services with increasing demand and decreasing resources. Stress alone can be a significant risk factor for illness, and persistent difficult working conditions will only add to this. 

Surviving Work (by Elizabeth Cotton) is a great resource for healthcare workers and managers, with podcasts, e-books, blogs, library, and top tips for ‘surviving work’. There is also an invitation to share your story from the front line. There is no shame in asking for help, seek support from the people around you when you need to. Recognising when you are feeling increasingly stressed is important, yet it can be difficult to admit this sometimes. Looking after ourselves is key, even if it means making small changes that will make a huge difference in the long run.

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